‘They deserve to choose what to wear’: the fashion portal for refugees

A project launched during lockdown links refugee women with preloved clothes – but this is no ordinary donation scheme

It’s not your average online fashion outlet. Give Your BestIt does not have stock and every item it lists is completely free. All its customers are refugees or asylum seekers.

Sol Escobar felt trapped at home during the UK lockdown and was disappointed that she could not help refugees. She had been volunteering weekends at Calais refugee camps, and supporting resettled families from Cambridge, where she resides, until March 2020.

Then Escobar connected on Instagram with Ilda*, a young woman in Cardiff who was unable to work because of her asylum seeker status, and who was struggling to get by on £5 a day. Escobar started sending Ilda clothes she made herself, as they shared a dress size.

Ilda lived in Home Office accommodation alongside eight other asylum-seeker women. These women were also unable or unwilling to pay for clothes, while charity shops were closed. Escobar asked friends of various sizes to send photos of clothes they no more wore and she uploaded them to Instagram for the women.

“The women really enjoyed it – they said it was like a little shopping experience,” Escobar said. This idea was born into Give Your Best in 2020. More than 5,000 items have been gifted since then. 

It is easy. People take photos of the best quality clothes or accessories that they no longer wear – no ropey socks or holey jumpers – which are posted on the project’s Instagram account. Refugee and asylum seeker women ‘buy’ items by contacting the shop, and the seller posts to them directly for free, usually enclosing a card with a personal message. 

How to help refugees

‘The donation world can be dehumanising at times, even with the best intentions,’ noted Escobar.

At the time this article was published, it included a pink, beaded Monsoon skirt as well as a handmade, tasselled, green poncho.

“The donation world can be dehumanising at times, even with the best intentions,” noted Escobar. “People internalise that all they deserve are the things that they’re given. But these women deserve to choose what they want to wear.”

Stock is not held, so there is no waste. An item is sent only if it is chosen by the recipient. Give Your Best has bigger plans for reducing waste. Work is underway on a standalone website. This will allow clothing retailers the opportunity to give away unsold stock. 

How to help refugees

Kemi Olagunlana, a Nigerian woman, is wearing a suit donated from fashion brand Lora Gene. Image: Zsuzsanna Palami

Most of this stock is currently sent to landfill or textile recycling. After being criticized by environmentalists, Burberry promised to stop burning unsold bags and clothes in 2018.

“There is no place for fashion waste in a world where millions of people are living without [sufficient] clothing,” Escobar said.

Receiving positive feedback has been hugely rewarding for the team of 70 volunteers who run the online shop – some of whom are part of the community of shoppers themselves, such as Kemi Ogunlana (main picture), who had to fee Nigeria.

Sometimes, I cry when I open the items I receive. I feel that someone out there cares about me

After four years of waiting Ogunlana was granted refugee status in March 2020. She said that elegant clothes had given her confidence boost at job interviews. Ogunlana has felt welcomed in the UK since receiving them as gifts. 

“Sometimes when I open the things I receive, I cry,” she said. “I feel that someone out there cares about me.”

*Not her real name
Main image: Zsuzsanna Palami